THE number of patients waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment - from the point of referral - in Gwent hospitals reached its highest level for seven months in June.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board was among four of the six health boards in Wales that provide acute services to record an increase in treatment waits of beyond 36 weeks in June, as a difficult spring for the NHS in Wales turned into summer.

Increased emergency pressures more common to winter continued throughout the spring, with the knock-on effect hitting bed availability.

And added to this is an ongoing issue with pension and tax issues - which is affecting the NHS across the UK.

Pension rules introduced in 2016 mean some consultants face tax issues if they work beyond planned hours, and despite concern over this and warnings that it is hampering attempts to reduce the number of long waits UK-wide, it has still to be addressed by central Government.

By June 30, 633 patients had been waiting more than 36 weeks - from referral - for treatment in Gwent, the highest end-of-month figure since last November (739).

Year-on-year the situation is slightly better, as at the end of June last year, 813 patients in Gwent had been waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment.

However, most of the reductions achieved subsequently, during last autumn and winter, have now been reversed.

The health board has this summer received an extra £4m, as part of a multi-million pound, Wales-wide investment by the Welsh Government, to help slash waiting times, but it remains to be seen if this can make a sustained difference given the ongoing aforementioned issues.

More than 80 per cent of the long waits in Gwent in June were for orthopaedic and ophthalmology patients.

By June 30, 369 orthopaedic patients had been waiting longer than 36 weeks, compared to just 78 three months earlier.

In ophthalmology the number was 172, up from 31 at the end of March. A programme of outsourcing eye operations - 2,100 by June 2021, along with almost 4,300 ophthalmology outpatient appointments - is beginning however, and the health board hopes to see long waits falling in this specialty in the coming months.